Cain and Abel

The first victim
and the first murderer

Cain -the first murderer

Cain -the first murderer, is the companion piece to the painting: Abel -the first victim. I did these monochrome oil paintings on masonite panels as a school exercise in the early 1980’s. They represented the first two son's of Adam and Eve from the Bible story in the book of Genesis. Italian painter Giacinto Gimignani (1606–1681) painting of the idyllic family is the one shown above on the header.

Cain killed his brother Abel in a murderous rage stimulated by jealousy. In the painting, I show him gazing down at his brother as he lies on the ground releasing his last breath. Cain’s body is splattered with his Abel’s blood, markings of his violent deed. The live model for the painting was José Manuel Garcia, a childhood friend who was routinely cast as a villain in my early plays in Puerto Rico. In real life "Cuco" is a happy soul, always joking and laughing -the life of any party! But I found his features and his powerful physique perfect for the model of Cain.


"Cain -the first murderer"
Artist's Oils on Masonite panel
18 x 23 inches (46.7 x 58.4 cm)

Abel -the first victim

I represented Abel at the moment of death, releasing his last breath. Violent death is not pretty (I've have had the misfortune of witnessing it), so I did not seek to glamorize it but to show it for what it is. The live model for the painting was my seventeen year-old cousin Nelson Willis Rivera. Years later, following the example of many people in my Rivera side of the family, "Nelson" became a pastor. But back them all he could think about was music (he played guitar) and girls (they played with him).


"Abel -the first victim"
Artist's Oils on Masonite panel
23 x 18 inches (58.4 x 46.7 cm)

Most religious paintings I've seen on the subject are from the Baroque Era (1600 to 1750), which look staged and idealized. The painters seem more interested in showing their knowledge of the male physique and in representing "the drama" of the moment than the reality of it. Another way to describe these paintings is "staged". I think perhaps this is a fair assessment since these artists created their beautiful canvases before the advent of photography and the cinema. Their world was that of the performance stage -"the live theater".


An example of a Baroque painting about Cain and Abel.

On the other hand, my influences are from the cinema. I love films and a film that left an impression on me was John Huston's 1966 epic: The Bible. I was around 11 years old when I first saw it and those first scenes fascinated me. So when I thought about doing a quick painting exercise in which I could choose the subject, Cain and Abel was what came to mind. I've no idea why, other than the fact that I was in the middle of writing a religious theme play. I also had a short deadline and I figured I could do them fast, which is the reason I painted them in monochrome and not multi-color. For me, full color takes longer to do.


Richard Harris and Franco Nero, seen in a still from John Huston's 1966 epic -the Bible.

After thinking about the composition, I invited my two models to come by my house in the evening for coffee and cake. Then I asked them to pose for a few reference photographs for the paintings. This was before digital photography, when you had to plan well and shoot the least amount of photographs because the expense of developing film could add up quickly. So I made sure to light my models properly, using a combination of house lamps and cardboard reflectors, and shot a dozen photos. Posing them and going through the small roll of film took less than half hour. The following morning I took the roll of film to AC Color Lab to have a set of prints made and picked them up that afternoon after class.

Both paintings were done in one night. I had to show them in school the next morning, which was a Friday. I used Artist's Oils because they blended easily and kept the paint very thin so it would dry faster. Actually, I dried them in my kitchen's oven -not the first time I "baked dry" paintings to meet assigment deadlines. I can't remember what grade I got for my effort because of lack of sleep, but I was pleased with the result. I wanted to capture the instance immediately after the violent act with a close-up of the two brothers. I was also "dramatic" like the Baroque painters, but my treatment of these simple paintings was more "cinematic" and closer to real life.

In time, I gave the paintings to the models. As far as I can remember, those were the only religious-theme paintings I have ever done, though I never thought of them as religious. To me they represented the drama of life. People are emotional beings filled with character flaws. This can make us unpredictable even on situations with an expected outcome. It fills the world around us with drama. So I tend to compose everything in my mind as if I was casting a play and creating a scene. The tragic story of Cain and Abel provided me with an exciting, emotional, and unexpected act that I could bring to the spot light one more time.

Muralmaster® is ‘an educational site’ privately sponsored and maintained. It contains no pop-ups, sales banners or advertisements. People from over thirty countries routinely visit Muralmaster to enjoy the articles and admire the art. This website is also a great learning tool for artists and young students wanting to know more about the inner workings of this artistic profession. In Muralmaster they get what they can’t get elsewhere: an intimate and sobering look into the struggles of an artistic mind and the difficult career-realities of being an artist.